In fact, a podcast of a lecture may be better. Students watching a podcast can pause and rewind through missed points, they can pick their strongest time of the day to focus, and they can wear headphones to tune out distractions.
Just as students can stumble into a lecture hall and nap in the back row, simply listening to a podcast isn’t as important as how the students use the podcast: students who listened to the podcast one or more times and took notes while listening actually scored better on the test than students attending the lecture.
All the usual disclaimers apply: this was just one study of only 64 students, in one lecture, with one test. However, it does encourage us to take a closer look at podcasts as a powerful tool for teaching.
Podcasts are like radio or television shows you can download to your computer and listen to or watch wherever and whenever you want, on your computer or on a portable player such as an iPod. All you need to start podcasting is a podcasting client, such as iTunes.
contexts has a podcast!
If you want to hear an example, I’ll shamelessly plug our very own Contexts Podcast. We release episodes every other week and each episode features an interview with leading scholars—frequently authors from our magazine—and discussions of our favorite discoveries. Each episode is about 20-25 minutes long and are great to listen to on your daily commute or even to assign to your students to compliment your own course material.
On our podcast homepage we have links to many other podcasts listed in the sidebar that you may find interesting. If you find other good ones: let us know & we can recommend those too!
teaching with podcasts
But this post started with a study of podcasting lectures themselves, not just using them as supplementary course material. But podcasting your own lecture isn’t that hard, and some sociologists are doing it already, such as Gianpaolo Baiocchi’s Sociology of Race Relations (iTunes link), and Tina Fetner’s Intro to Sociology (iTunes Link).
If your university participates in iTunes U (for example, our home, The University of Minnesota, does), then it’s easy to get your podcast put online where others can find it. With the rise in online distance education, universities are increasingly well-equipped to handle this sort of thing, so ask around on your campus. Hopefully, you’ll find IT support people excited you’re trying something new & willing to help. (I know we benefited greatly from help from our college’s IT unit when we got started.)
Remember the study’s findings though! Encourage your students to listen to each lecture twice, or at least go back to the parts they struggled with later. Also, the students who did the best had printouts of slides to follow along with as well. And they still took notes, even though they weren’t in the physical class room.